Does touring the world kill it?

Entertainment and the environment: How concerts can be more sustainable


Illustrated by Lily Zeng

Masses of crowds gather, thirsty and exhausted, charging to the frontlines, ready to fight for a place in the pit of a Taylor Swift concert. Bands holding concerts and touring worldwide are staples of the music industry and a major way to bring in profit. However, behind this flare and profit lies an immense amount of environmental harm caused by concerts and tours alone.

In 2019, the academic journal “Popular Music” used a carbon-tracking tool to measure the environmental impact of five musicians as they went on tour. Combined, the artists added 19,314 kilograms of CO2 to the environment in a mere six months, which is the equivalent of taking approximately 20 flights back and forth from New York City to London.

This pollution within concerts comes from a number of sources, such as transportation of artists and gear, electricity and concession waste during concerts. There are possible solutions to all these issues, and bands who wish to lower their environmental impact can take a variety of strategies to lower their carbon footprint.

For example, Coldplay decided to stop touring entirely in 2019 until they are able to do so in an environmentally friendly manner. This tactic, while effective, is not feasible for every band, as touring brings in a majority of many bands’ revenues. So, many bands aren’t able to afford missing out on the money they earn from touring. Coldplay is able to do this because they still generate a solid income from streaming and album sales thanks to their widespread popularity. However, there are still strategies to lower emissions while touring that many bands have chosen to employ.

Jack Johnson is a singer-songwriter best known for his soundtrack in the “Curious George” movie from 2006. Johnson’s tactic for touring involves measures meant to reduce the pollution it causes. Johnson began an initiative to bring more reusable bottle options to concerts as opposed to the plastic cups that so often litter concert venue floors. Johnson also donates $2 of every ticket purchase to environmental non-profit groups, which can be as much as $35,000 per show.

Billie Eilish has also taken measures in her recent tours to be more environmentally friendly. One such way is by ensuring venues provide both meat and plant-based food options for the same price, as well as providing all-vegan menus for the crew at her concerts. These kinds of meals are less harmful to the environment than traditional concert foods, and with popular artists such as Eilish pushing these initiatives, big venues must choose to become more sustainable or lose big-ticket acts.

While many of the strategies artists use are fairly new, the desire to be more environmentally friendly isn’t new for certain bands. The grunge band Pearl Jam began offsetting its carbon emissions in 2003 by donating to environmental organizations in an effort to achieve net-zero carbon emissions for their tours.

There are a number of environmental organizations that make these efforts more accessible for bands. These organizations have existed for years, and thanks to the halting of live music in 2020, musicians and venue owners had time to ally with said organizations, revisit their practices and take on sustainability initiatives.

REVERB is one of these organizations and works with artists such as Billie Eilish, The 1975, Lorde and Shawn Mendes to “create and execute comprehensive programs to reduce concert and tour footprints from eliminating single-use water bottles to coordinating local farm food to fueling sustainable biodiesel in tour buses to composting and donating food waste and much more,” as their mission statement says. This organization was founded in 2004 and has grown to an organization that supports A-list international talent in their mission to be more sustainable. By partnering with organizations such as REVERB, artists are incentivized to take action since there are groups available to help them do so. Whereas in the past artists may have had to craft their own environmental plans, now artists can outsource this planning so it is done easily and more efficently.

Another organization, CHOOOSE, aims to help artists and companies offset their carbon emissions. This tool is useful for travel, since completely carbon-neutral travel options aren’t effective in a touring environment. Using this platform, artists are able to calculate how much carbon they emit on tour and then donate an equivalent amount of money to offset the damage they have caused. This organization was founded in 2017, but has grown substantially to support major companies in their mission to be more environmentally friendly.

With further support for these kinds of organizations and increased public consciousness regarding pollution, concerts are on their way to becoming a more sustainable way to support artists.